For The Dudes
A few years ago, a friend and I were commiserating about something or other, enjoying a beverage at the best bar in Seattle - the Eastlake Zoo Tavern. At one point, we were lamenting the whiteness and maleness of our media landscape, in particular the “experts” often brought in to share analysis and opinion regarding matters of the day. Rather than just complain, however, we planted the seeds in our brains for a Rolodex of sorts (in app form) of amazing voices on various progressive issues. The idea: share this with reporters, producers, and our friends in the “progressive” community.
Unfortunately, our respective lives took pretty significant turns shortly after, with each of us taking on new jobs that, frankly, sucked the time out of our schedules to do this work. That isn’t to say we stopped on an individual basis, we just didn’t get to the goal of a solid directory to help expand the voices we hear on radio and TV, or read in print and online journalism.
The good news: journalists (at least in Seattle) want this resource. If you follow me on the Twitter dot com, you may notice that I gladly highlight #AllMalePanels when reading an article and every voice is a dude. It happens all. the. time. Not too long ago, a reporter responded back:
Melissa Santos, who is a pretty dope reporter, brings up an excellent point in this: journalists, especially for the big three news sources in Seattle (the Seattle Times, the Stranger, and Crosscut) are under tight deadlines. We have seen the profession of journalism consistently cut due to lack of funds, and while we are seeing more and more television infotainment focused on leading with the worst of our city, this has come with a cost of actual journalists able and willing to do the hard work that brings nuance to issues facing our region. Expecting overworked and underpaid journalists to have quality contacts that diversify voices is reasonable. At the same time, expecting them to do it all on their own is not.
Most recently, this issue bubbled up following an article in Politico, where a Boston-based reporter hyped how great Seattle is on non-car transportation infrastructure and investment strategies. All while quoting almost exclusively men, at one point opining that the Move Seattle Levy was passed in some sort of significant part due to folks from Seattle Subway engaging in the keyboard wars. While the article has been updated with a couple more quotes from non-dudes, the overwhelming amount of e-ink spent is spent on the dudes.
This isn’t a first, of course, for Politico. While working for Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, a Seattle-based freelance reporter called to talk about urbanism, and chat on background. I also provided a list of names of folks who have been engaged in issues around development, transportation infrastructure, and environmental stewardship. Generally, the rule was young folks, and the list was dominated by women and people of color. Plus, of course, an opportunity to talk at length with CM Mosqueda, one of the most outspoken advocates on Council for greater density.
Ultimately, the article, “My Generation is Never Going to Have That,” featured quotes from seven dudes and two women.
While the article provides excellent information, and is generally a well-written piece, the overwhelming focus on white dude voices is problematic. For me, it was a learning experience: be more aggressive when working with reporters and producers, and really limit names I give to women (and in particular, women of color). This came up at least one other time when I worked for CM Mosqueda, with the Seattle Channel requesting she participate in a panel regarding disposition policies for surplus properties in Seattle. While speaking on background with the producer, I probed for information on who else would be on the panel, as well as the additional interviews that Seattle Channel does for their programs. I was very disheartened to hear it was all (or almost all) dudes. So I pushed back, and was able to provide a group of amazing women of color who are leading not only on affordable housing development in areas at heightened risk of displacement, but doing so through an equitable development lens.
In this instance, the producer agreed, and the final product was overwhelmingly women of color, and with experiences that can be considered atypical with respect to development and affordable housing development. It also showed an area wherein we, as white urbanists, have too often dismissed concerns around development as “NIMBYism” being quite different - support for safe streets, for denser communities, and for access to reliable transit, with a desire to have more public funding and support to ensure that it isn’t density for white people; that it isn’t storefronts for $5 cupcakes. Rather, that there is the ability for community-driven development, with unit sizes that meet the needs of households at greatest risk of displacement thanks to a zoning system rooted in racism, with disparate impacts on communities of color and low income households.
It’s an opportunity not only to see and hear more voices - and for our kids to see and hear the same - but also to recognize how many of us are on the same side. Further, providing better education for white urbanists, ensuring we recognize that the market alone is not enough. A libertarian model of urbanism is a model that excludes too many people, and exacerbates the suburbanization of poverty.
What the hell is this all about?
With the most recent nearly-all-male panel in Politico, I shot off a Tweet reminding my fellow white dudes that it’s on us to steer reporters to people who don’t look like us. Seattle Subway’s President, Keith Kyle, tweeted the following back to me:
This is a good action. Keith Kyle, the master of Prince Karaoke (fun fact!) attempted to broaden the pool, including two organizations headed by women. All the same, as we saw (and continue to see), dudes are over-represented. So what can we as white dudes do to change that? Back in November of 2017, I published a piece emphasizing ways men could simply be better. This was in the midst of a cacaphony of men attempting to justify shitty behavior by a dude running for City Council, and minimizing the experience of the women who reported being harmed by his prior actions (one of the dudes participating in that effort is now running for City Council, and has acknowledged that maybe men shouldn’t do that, so progress!).
Today, I’m going to supplement that list with some ways that we as white dudes can be even more better!
Don’t Participate in All-Male Panels. This is the easiest of the bunch. If you’re a dude who gets tapped to participate in panel discussions on anything, ask who the other panelists are. Are they all dudes? Then perhaps politely decline and explain why.
I don’t like to talk about it, but this is something that I’ve done on many occasions, which (for better or worse) has kept me off of panels discussing homelessness, parks, housing, and more. Most recently, this meant not being on a panel that (with me) would have been all white dudes moderated by a white dude. While it would have been fun, and I believe I would have brought a perspective that will otherwise be missing, the woman of color who will be taking the spot I was offered is fucking amazing, and will bring an equity perspective that trumps my “insider” perspective on the issue.
Does this mean that as white dudes you may not be able to speak as much? Sure. That doesn’t mean you’re silenced - I still have a blog with a solid 17 regular readers, and you can, too. Additionally, being engaged and involved with various advocacy organizations affords dudes many opportunities to be heard in the development of an advocacy plan or proposed legislative strategy. But by taking a back seat on “selling” that plan, we not only ensure wider variety of voices in support of our issue, but also will often hear a better story, bringing more people to our side.
Bring More Women and People of Color to Your Tables. In so many urbanist groups and circles, white maleness is ever-apparent. By affirmatively working to bring in voices that don’t look like white dudes, I wholeheartedly believe we create better policy. And doing so not for tokenization purposes, but while giving up part of our own power and voice within an organization, a clearer path to equitable advocacy emerges.
And it isn’t some fantasy that we might see better results from this approach. When we were working on the disposition policies in CM Mosqueda’s office, the overwhelming majority of the different tables, leading to the “big table”, that we created were dominated by amazing women of color. An idea of implementing authority to transfer surplus properties below market value for affordable housing purposes morphed into an equitable development and community-driven development strategy, and I believe that, if the executive implements it, our city is better off as a result. And we got there by intentionally diversifying our table.
Don’t Assume Bad Motives. When Got Green began the Don’t Displace Dove campaign, many white urbanists had a knee-jerk reaction that Got Green was anti-growth and anti-development. However, in my experience, this is an organization with a board and staff reflective of the community they purport to serve seeking basic dignity for households most likely to be displaced by development with no rules.
We as white urbanists love to identify the racist history of redlining in Seattle’s zoning, but we lose credibility when we ignore what has happened since. Zoning changes have, time and again, impacted communities that have historically been communities of color, or have residents that are low- and moderate-income. This has largely been due to the relative lack of pushback. Poor people can’t afford lawsuits. Working folks can’t yell at city council members. As a result, there has been, over the years, north of Ship Canal has been relatively left untouched, driving up prices, and leading to white folks moving south as we get a little less racist. White people colonize, so when we move south, we not only displace residents who can’t afford our new construction, but also small businesses that don’t sell overpriced cheeseburgers and PBR tallboys.
With that history, it’s no wonder that we see concerns about development without regulation. And the result of development without regulation in areas at heightened risk of displacement is: displacement. This risk can be mitigated, through public investment, through efforts to diversify housing north of Ship Canal, through public policy that intentionally and affirmatively focuses on ensuring we don’t push families out of the city while trying to create homes for the thousands of people moving here every year. Ultimately, when we look closer, we see that organizations like Got Green, Rainier Beach Action Coalition, El Centro de la Raza, and more, share our values around access to affordable homes, reliable transit, and environmental sustainability. Ensuring that there is racial equity as a centerpiece of policies to make these issues a reality is not an unreasonable request. And, for urbanists who purport to b social justice urbanists, it’s a must-have for our advocacy and policy development.
Share Knowledge. One of the most frustrating aspects of public policy is the gatekeeper. I’m sure I’ll have more on this another time, but generally I have found that too often, once people get power, they like to keep it. And the easiest way to keep it is to be a gatekeeper, pulling a ladder up behind you. Don’t do this. There is a lot of technical and structural information that many of us white dudes have because we live in a patriarchal society where white supremacy is embedded in so many aspects of how our institutions function.
Many of my fellow white dudes have a lot of knowledge about those systems, and ways to navigate them effectively. Wherever possible, we should be working hand-in-hand to break down barriers that keep low-income households and communities of color from making more effective and meaningful positive change. At the same time, if you see someone trying to do good, and they are lamenting the difficulties of navigating a system that continues to be focused on preservation of gatekeepers, share what you know and who you know that can help tear down that barrier. Don’t be stingy, be liberal with your knowledge.
Is there more that we as white dudes can do? Of course. But here, my dudes, are four simple steps you can take to help avoid monochromatic and dude-centric voices being the center of policy analysis. Here in Seattle, we have some dope reporters. We can - and if we truly believe in equity, must - do more to ensure that it’s not just white dudes they’re going to, that they’re quoting, and that are shaping the narrative of policy implementation in Seattle.